As a speech and language therapist, it was inevitable that I was going to be interested in a novel using the phrase ‘anti-aphasia serum.’ Sure enough, from the opening pages Christina’s Dalcher’s debut novel, VOX, had me riveted.
Dr Jean McClellan is a leading neurolinguistics scientist working on a cure for Wernicke’s aphasia, the devastating language disorder that can result from brain injury. But for the last year she has not been allowed to work – because she’s a woman. The oppressive Pure Movement is in power and women are restricted to the home and domestic chores such as shopping. They are allowed to speak only 100 words a day – for most of us that's about forty seconds’ worth of speech. But sometimes a totalitarian regime needs to make exceptions for its own gain. As with all repressive organisations, there are supporters and detractors. But who is who? Who can be trusted? Choices must be made.
Written with articulate simplicity the punch of the novel is delivered in brief chilling sentences:
- · My boys do not wear word counters.
- · They know what happens when we overuse words.
- · I have five left.
Christina Dalcher explores not only a dystopian world, where neighbours and family members may be pitted against one another, but also how language and the impact of its restriction affects identity and relationships, autonomy and power.
As someone who has spent a career enabling those with speech and language difficulties to express themselves, it’s a disturbing vision because I’ve seen what can happen to those whose lives have been affected by their lack of language. It diminishes virtually every aspect of their world.
Like all good books VOX’s premise is not impossible. Prisons around the world hold those who have spoken out.
A final note; one of my patients with Wernicke’s aphasia was walking with his wife on a beach one sunny morning. He said ‘I’ll get some pianos so we can nicely parade.’ He knew exactly what he meant but can you work out his meaning?
Thank you HQStories for asking me to be a VOX champion.
I have used 3.5 days’ worth of words.